Managing customer service in the veterinary industry
I'm passionate about customer service in the veterinary industry, so my current job role is perfect for me. However, it would be fair to say that it came about more by happy accident than by design. It's not the position I set out to hold, but it came about through a combination of things: following my instincts, hard work, and having open-minded directors who were prepared to listen to new ideas.
From a young age, I knew I wanted to work in the veterinary industry. Despite warnings of low pay and unsociable hours, I spent every moment I could at any veterinary clinic that would allow me to volunteer and, eventually, I secured a place on the first year of the veterinary nursing NVQ-based study system.
Qualifying as a VN in 2002, I already knew I had two key areas of interest. While I loved being with the patients, I always felt I made more of a difference to their overall welfare when talking to and informing their owners. Consequently, consulting was my favourite part of the week. I also developed a fascination for reptiles.
Fresh from my VN studies and keen to absorb more knowledge, I made the decision to move from my training practice to a veterinary clinic that specialised in exotic species. It was the experience of a lifetime; I gained a vast amount of knowledge not just about the patients I was caring for, but also about myself. After a year of working with exotics, I began to miss the contact and communication with clients. I decided to make exotics my hobby and move back to general practice where I felt I could use my communication skills to benefit pet owners.
Courtesy of a local territory manager, I heard of an opening for a head nurse at what was then the Pet Vaccination Clinic in Coventry. I was bowled over by the team's enthusiasm for patient and client care and, realising the practice didn't only do vaccinations, I was keen to join the team. I was thrilled to be offered the job and felt that it would be a new chapter in my career.
I took to my new role like a duck to water, managing a profitable clinic and, after developing and implementing a successful consulting nurse service, I was promoted to practice manager of the company's larger clinic in Wythall, south of Birmingham.
Shortly afterwards the company was sold and it became YourVets. The new board of directors established its headquarters in shared office space above the clinic I was managing. This presented its own challenges and opportunities. Working with the management team, I developed a broader understanding of how customer service affected not just my clinic but the business in its entirety.
"I developed a broader understanding of how customer service affected not just my clinic but the business in its entirety"
In addition to my practice management duties, I began assisting the board in its activities and presented ideas to them as they occurred to me. These were small at first but grew in significance as time went on. I also undertook and successfully completed a certificate in business studies through home study, to complement my practical experience and compound my knowledge.
Training and development for customer service management
I found I was delegating more of my practice management tasks to line managers within the clinic and taking on more tasks supporting the management team. The directors realised this, too, and I was offered the position of training manager within the management team.
My role subsequently became practice development manager and involved assisting and mentoring the group's five practice managers. I was tasked with helping them understand how changes across all areas of their clinics affected the service that clients received and facilitating implementation of the changes. In the meantime, our logistics team was looking to see if any efficiencies could be gained from centralising customer calls.
How to deliver excellent customer service using social media
After a short spell of maternity leave in 2011, I returned to work. The company's new CEO had a keen appreciation of customer service and wanted to develop our newly formed call centre, which at the time had one operator. I was asked to assess the viability of operating a call centre to improve our customer service, and I became the customer services manager.
Like many veterinary clinics, we quickly recognised that removing phone traffic from the reception desk improved the experience for clients as they now had the receptionist's full attention. Clients calling YourVets were answered more promptly, and by someone who was less distracted, and we missed virtually no calls. The increase in booked appointments made the experiment cost effective and I was asked to extend the service to more of our branches.
"Removing phone traffic from the reception desk improved the experience for clients"
As the call centre grew, I gained an interest in social media. After some personal investigation, I submitted my suggestions to our CEO who supported me by allowing me to spend time testing my theories and to spend my CPD budget learning more about this area, as well as completing a certificate in marketing.
Being a mum and working full time while completing the certificate was hard work, but I enjoyed the course content and it was so relevant that I could implement it immediately, making it worthwhile and enjoyable.
My journey through social media has been largely self-taught. I investigated how our clients wanted to build relationships with us, and I am proud that YourVets now has among the best social media engagement figures in the industry. This year, the call centre has grown to seven operators, and the group has a range of social media channels. The call centre has created the added benefit of allowing us to centralise some administrative tasks; for example, pet insurance claim forms, which our operators now complete in their downtime.
I have been fortunate enough to be able to grow into a job I love, and while it was more by consequence than deliberate decision, I wouldn't have it any other way.